Culture

Why do we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in May?

May is a significant month to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community for a couple of reasons.

A group of women walk up Jackson Street in Chinatown past the new AAPI Community Heroes mural in San Francisco
Eric Risberg / AP

The United States has been celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage throughout May for the last 44 years.  

According to AsianPacificHeritage.gov, May is significant to the AAPI community because it honors the first Japanese immigrants who came to America in May of 1843. It also honors transcontinental railroad workers, a majority of whom were Chinese immigrants, who finished the project in May of 1869. 

White House honors AANHPI Month discussing anti-Asian hate crimes
White House honors AANHPI Month discussing anti-Asian hate crimes

White House honors AANHPI Month discussing anti-Asian hate crimes

Visible Together is the theme of the all-day event featuring administration leaders, artists and community volunteers.

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However, national recognition didn't begin until almost a century later, when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law in May 1979. The initial legislation marked seven days of the month as "Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week," starting on May 4. Then, in 1990, Congress passed legislation to observe the occasion for an entire month. It wasn't until 1992 that Congress passed additional legislation to officially declare May AAPI Heritage Month.   

Being Asian Pacific Islander in America: Diversity within diversity
Being Asian Pacific Islander in America: Diversity within diversity

Being Asian Pacific Islander in America: Diversity within diversity

Asian American Pacific Islanders are shaped by where they were born and how connected they are to their ethnic origins.

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AsianPacificHeritage.gov defines Asian/Pacific as encompassing:
• The Asian continent
• The Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands)
• Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia)
• Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island)

Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there's been a nearly 30% increase in those who identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander from 2010 to 2020. 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hate crimes against the AAPI community soared. In January, the White House rolled out the first-ever strategy to promote safety and equity  for AAPI communities.

Here's how Disney is celebrating AAPI Heritage Month
Here's how Disney is celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

Here's how Disney is celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

Disney will be highlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander stories throughout May, from employees to consumers and fans.

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Below are resources to learn more about the culture, history and important figures of the AAPI community.
Asian Pacific Heritage
National Archives News Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
EDSITEment! Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage and History in the U.S.
National Park Service Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center